Fill out the form below to send an email to Mooseheart about your visit request. Our staff will be in touch soon to confirm the time and date of your visit.
Find out what's happening at Mooseheart
There are times when everyone needs a few superheroes in their corner, and for Roman Zander Niklos – aka “Roman Tough” – that time is now. Diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year, the superhero-loving 4-year old Oswego resident has been undergoing treatment and has years to go in his battle against the disease.
When asked what he wanted for Christmas, Roman said he wanted to see The Grinch at Disney World, but treatment made that trip impossible. He and his family have been to see the Holiday Lights at Mooseheart, so the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted Mooseheart Executive Director Gary Urwiler on Dec. 15 to see if a trip through the show could be arranged.
“Roman really wanted to go to Disney World, but with it being the most intensive time in his treatment, that had to be pushed back to April. We talked about doing a wish enhancement for him, something special for him. My family comes to Mooseheart every year and loves the Lights. We maybe thought we could get a special meet-and-greet with Santa. But (Urwiler) took it and ran with it,” said Tracy Frieders, a Make-A-Wish Foundation Volunteer Wish-Granter. Frieders and fellow Volunteer Wish-Granter Karina Gallegos brought presents as well.
In less than 24 hours, Urwiler arranged a limo ride through the Holiday Lights, and got superheroes to accompany Roman. On Dec. 17, Roman and his family – parents Andrea and J.R. as well as his brother and sister – went through the Holiday Lights show, and the ride was enhanced by visits from Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, Batman as well as Mr. and Mrs. Incredible.
Roman, who said his favorite superhero was “all of them,” enjoyed his ride through the Holiday Lights. Each superhero gave Roman a gift. Superman, for example, gave him a cape and Captain America gave him a shield.
“I could never have imagined anything like this that they’ve done. It’s just amazing,” Frieders said.
As he got out of the car to visit Santa Claus in the Mooseheart Field House, The Grinch was waiting to lead as escort, with Roman riding in a wheelchair decked out to look like the Batmobile. As he moved to the head of the line to see Santa, those in line broke into applause.
“I think it’s phenomenal, the effort that’s gone into this,” Andrea Niklos said. “Everything was exactly what Roman loves, and he’s in shock with all of it. We thought we were just going to come here and look at some lights, and we were excited about that. But everything has gone way above that.”
When he got to see Santa – who wore a “Roman Tough” T-shirt – Roman asked for Legos, which was a good request, as Santa had Legos already waiting for him, along with cookies, which Roman ate with some of his new superhero friends.
“Anything that’s fun for him is great,” Andrea Niklos said. “He has to spend so much time in the hospital, which is something he shouldn’t have to be doing at 4-year old. He should be going to school and doing a lot of other things that kids get to do. Things like this are really special for him.”
Asked what his favorite part of the experience was, Roman said, “all of it,” which were words that made Urwiler smile from ear to ear.
“It was so exciting to think of how we could bless the family, and especially Roman,” Urwiler said. “Everything just came into place in a 24-hour period. It was an incredible effort by the whole community and I think we’ve left an impression on the young man. Hopefully on days he needs strength, he’s able to pull on this memory and use it as encouragement.”
The superheroes and The Grinch were portrayed by Mooseheart and Moose International employees. Mooseheart’s children added a special touch by making signs and cookies and coming to the field house to wish Roman well.
“I think it works into our mission of ‘Enter to Learn; Leave to Serve,’” Urwiler said. “As a community, we have to show the children here that it’s all about giving back and giving to others. We all have special circumstances in life, and we need to come together and allow others to be encouraged by us.”
Urwiler added special praise for the Mooseheart students for their efforts on hearing what the campus had planned for Roman.
“Their gifts and smiles and hugs and high fives – it was really a tear-jerking moment when it all happened in the field house and Roman got on Santa’s lap,” Urwiler said.
For everyone involved who as asked, granting a wish for Roman helped make Christmas just a little bit more special.
“We’ve wanted to create an atmosphere of family tradition with the Holiday Lights, and I think we’ve done that, and this was a special night for a special boy,” Urwiler said.